JON CARDINELLI selects an overall 18-team Super Rugby log based on performances across the conference stage.
The Super Rugby conference system makes for confusing reading regarding the respective teams' standing in the tournament. SARugbymag.co.za's chief writer believes this is where they would rank in a 1-18 format.
1. Lions (14-1)
The Lions beat the Sharks in the final round to finish on 65 log points – two more than the second-placed Crusaders. There's bound to be some debate about whether the Lions deserve top spot, given that they avoided the New Zealand sides during the conference stage.
2. Crusaders (14-1)
The Crusaders suffered their first defeat of the campaign when they went down 31-22 to the Hurricanes in Wellington. Scott Robertson's side has played some great rugby this season and have come through a tough New Zealand division with the most coveted of the conference titles.
3. Hurricanes (12-3)
The Hurricanes won 12 regular-season matches – one more than they did in 2016. It's crazy to think that they could be forced to travel extensively in the playoffs, despite faring better than most non-New Zealand teams.
4. Chiefs (12-1-2)
The Chiefs have looked to play with more balance this season, and have come through the conference stage with one of the better defensive records. That balanced approach should serve them well in the coming quarter-final against a physically and tactically inferior Stormers side.
5. Highlanders (11-4)
The Highlanders will play away from home in the knockouts despite finishing the conference stage with five more wins than the Brumbies. They pushed the Crusaders close during a regular-season fixture, and will demand the very best of the Crusaders in the coming quarter-final in Christchurch.
6. Stormers (10-5)
The Stormers proved to be the best of a mediocre Africa 1 conference bunch. The Cape side won six out of six in that division, but only four of their nine remaining clashes. They head into the playoffs having beaten only one of their fellow qualifiers (Chiefs).
8. Blues (7-1-7)
The Sunwolves thrashed the Blues in the final round of the conference stage. Tana Umaga's side has been better than their log position suggests, though. The fifth-ranked New Zealand team finished the regular season with three more log points than the Australian conference winners.
9. Brumbies (6-9)
The Brumbies have the geniuses behind the tournament format to thank for their unbelievable promotion to the playoffs. Only six teams finished with worse win-records in 2017. Stephen Larkham's side will be hard-pressed to compete against the Hurricanes in the quarter-finals, even though they will have the benefit of playing the game in Canberra.
10 Jaguares (7-8)
The Jaguares finished a disappointing season with a historic two-win tour of Australia. Those results ensured that the Jaguares avoided a fourth-place finish in the Africa 2 conference.
11. Kings (6-9)
The Kings and their fans will remember this season for years to come. The plucky Eastern Cape side picked up inaugural wins against the Waratahs, Sharks, Jaguares and Bulls, and ultimately a franchise record of six victories in a season. While they finished last in the Africa 2 conference, they obtained more log points than three of the four Africa 1 teams. This highlights the gap between the two divisions.
12. Force (6-9)
The Force beat the Waratahs recently to end their Super Rugby journey on a high. That victory allowed them to finish second in the Aussie conference.
13. Cheetahs (4-11)
Like the Kings and Force, the Cheetahs's Super Rugby story is now a thing of the past. They beat the Kings in Port Elizabeth last Friday and finished second in the Africa 1 conference. That said, it's been a forgettable season for a franchise that's been absolutely hopeless on defence (75 tries conceded).
14. Reds (4-11)
The Reds were comfortably beaten by the Highlanders last Friday. Given the quality of players in their ranks, they should be disappointed with their abysmal record in 2017.
15. Bulls (4-11)
The Bulls made history for all the wrong reasons this year. The low point of the campaign was undoubtedly the loss to the Sunwolves in Tokyo. Their recent defeat to the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld saw them finishing the regular season at the bottom of the South African pile.
16. Waratahs (4-11)
It's hard to believe that this team won the Super Rugby tournament just three years ago. The Sydney-based side explored new depths of incompetence in 2017 despite boasting a host of Wallabies players.
17. Sunwolves (2-13)
The Sunwolves finished the season with a famous win against the Blues in Tokyo. The victory against the Bulls earlier in the season will also be spoken about for years to come. The Japanese franchise did enough to avoid a last-place finish, and yet it would be hard to mount an argument for their continued inclusion based on the quality of their overall performance.
18. Rebels (1-1-13)
Why have the Rebels survived, while the likes of the Cheetahs, Kings and Force have received the Super Rugby chop? An excellent question. The team from Melbourne has proved ineffective on attack and defence (with a points-difference of -333), and deserve the overall wooden spoon.
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